by Michael Arnstein
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Otisville Prison Camp Day 1 – Part 1
Otisville New York is located about 90 miles north-north west of Manhattan. The elevation of the prison is 1300 ft, surrounded by classic Northeastern trees, forest all around. It's a rural area, quite smaller towns, seems as if not much has changed in this area of America for a long time outside of paved roads and houses that become more sporadic as you move further away from New York City. The 4 season climate provides a unique experience of all weather from hot summer days to chilling sub zero (F) and blowing snowstorms in the winter months.
Facing prison was a totally new and unexpected experience for me. I was as shocked as most people who know me when the judge handed down some real-time being locked up. My initial thoughts were simply 'wow'. I felt it was a grave injustice, but soon thereafter resolved that I would face the challenge and not let fear become any part of my consciousness. My overwhelming feeling was 'aggravation'. Aggravation about how this detour served no practical purpose for benefit of any party, it was just a big bag of waste and uselessness for all involved.
As my self-surrender date approached (I was given 3 months to wrap up my life before I had to turn myself in; which is quite a great benefit if you ever have to go to prison), 3 of my best friends soon insisted on driving me to Otisville on January 17th. I took up their generous and kind offer, here's some quick thoughts on these 3 wonderful people in my life:
Mike Oliva has run countless ultra marathon distances, he has a quote that I often think about when I'm faced with a new and great challenge. Mike and I have run many 100 mile races. When you run 100 miles, you are guaranteed to suffer in every way, no matter how hard you train, you are going to hit some serious walls both mentally and physically. I train really hard for 100 mile running races so I have less struggles in the experience. Mike thinks this is 'cheating'. Mike says "when you run 100 miles, the people who get the most out of the experience, the people who are really really tough, are the ones who DON'T train for it! If you train for a 100 miler you're cheating!' Mike can say this with experience, as his first 100 mile race, he entered on a whim, never having even run a 5 km race previously! Mike finished his first 100 miler without training, (he suffered like hell, said he'd never do one again!) But now, after crossing countless ultra marathon finishlines, Mike keeps coming back for more because he loves to suffer and overcome. It's worth noting Mike's never had a DNF (did not finish) in any of his running challenges. I've seen Mike at mile 92 of a super hard 100 mile trail race in Hawaii looking like a corpse, I thought he might not make it, but he didn't stop, he got it done. Mike, you are an inspiration!
Another one of my best friend's Mike Halovatch (and his wife Kate!) have been an inspiration to me for over a decade. Mike Halovatch is one of the most successful guys I know. He's firing on all cylinders at all times; home, family, kids, work, financial, physical, diet, organization, generous, very honest, determined, focused, man this guy has got it going on! If that wasn't enough he's about a foot taller than me! The guy is a machine (although he's DNF'ed that 100 mile race in Hawaii – hey no one is perfect!) Mike and his wife Kate (Kate is an Olympic marathon trials runner, one of the best female runners in NYC, home schools her 2 kids, this family is off the charts) has stood by my side through countless crappy experiences in my life, they have me over at their homes as if it was my own home; always there for me with sound advice coming from the heart.
Yuliya Yakhontova and I started the Woodstock Fruit Festival together. We met in the most unlikely way on a fruit discussion forum back in 2010. She was the first person to take on my wild idea of creating a fruit festival. Yuliya moved to the USA in her early 20's having not known anyone here, no friends, no family. She knew very little English, had few marketable skills. Her determination to beat the odds and find success is truly remarkable! I get way too much credit for the work she's done to make the Woodstock Fruit Festival a success. She is the person responsible for putting all the pieces together for what is now the largest and greatest event of its kind in the world. Over the years Yuliya has been a tireless supporter to me and my dreams of promoting health and wellness to others through diet and exercise. I'm most proud of the work I've been able to do in my life in this area and without Yuliya and her dedication to these ideals my soul would be far less full and satisfied. She's shown me by example of how adversity and challenges can be overcome.
So these 3 great friends Mike Halovatch, Mike Oliva and Yuliya Yakhontova drove me up to Otisville for my next chapter and challenge in my life. What a way to start!
On the drive from Manhattan to Otisville I wanted to stop at Bear Mountain to run to the summit on the Appalachian Trail. This short 1 hour run has a lot of history and significance in my life. I had run some of my first ultra marathon distances at Bear Mountain back in 2006. I did some of my most epic workouts over the years on this hill; one such 50 mile workout I posted on youtube and is one of my favorite vids that I posted when I first started to promote a fruit based diet publicly.
My grandparents were avid hikers in this park and I feel their presence in the pristine lakes, trees, trails, rocks and nature abound.
Mike Oliva and I have run many times from Time's Square NYC to Bear Mountain, it's a 62 mile run, probably the greatest long distance training route ever! We've finished in the dark on the summit after pushing ahead together. People think we're nuts, but we love to suffer and overcome. It was fitting to run to the summit as a clear reminder that nothing can stop me from reaching my goals. Mike, Mike and Mike (me) all ran up the trail, joking and laughing as we normally do when running together. It was cool, about 22F. Yuliya went on her own run, although an accomplished marathon runner herself, she let us guys ran up the trail like a bunch of rabbits.
From the top of Bear Mountain the sky was incredibly clear, you could see New York City 60+ miles in the distance clearly, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, full sun, the air was completely still, it was just totally perfect. Too bad we couldn't run all day long, it was glorious. The 3 of us hugged it out on the summit in a bit of a sad moment together, and then jackrabbit down the trail back to the car. Nothing makes you feel as fit, optimistic and plain happy than a good run!
Off to Otisville!
Pulling up to the prison was pretty intimidating seeing the huge complex, with multiple fences, rows and rows of razor wire. Guard towers high above the ground, with very tall lighting posts in all directions that would light up the night after sundown. This was a prison. A Federal Correctional Institution, the real deal! My feelings were mixed, some of it was very exciting; this was not a rehearsal, a visit, or a taste test, this was the big-boy joint, stuff you see in the movies. Bad dudes locked up behind multiple rows of iron gates, doors, bars; cold grey concrete, crows flying high in the grey sky above as mean, nasty, stoic guards in black army uniforms shuffle shackled inmates, legs waist and hands all bound together in chains dragging on the ground as they move slowly like the walking dead. Oh yes, this was something new for me, a 100 mile race of epic proportions; happening right now!
But then there is Camp Cupcake. That's what the guards call the Otisville 'Camp' where I was sent to spend 9 months.
The Camp is outside of the main prison complex, about a 1/2 mile away down a service road. No fence, no tall guard towers, kind of looks like a boring brown one story office complex with a standard parking lot.
Some part of me feels like I'm missing out on the hard-time joint (a very small part of me!).
I've been here a week and I still didn't see any cupcakes (but they do give out a muffins each day).
I self-surrendered myself at the main prison because I had to get photographed and given an ID card before I could go to the 'Camp' facility. I went through lots of steel doors, check points, over and over, they didn't put me in handcuffs or anything at all uncomfortable; the guards told me I was a 'camper' and said it in a way that was kind of disrespectful, like we were pathetic excuses for a prison experience. One guard told me that he's doing more 'time' working in the main prison than campers do. But he still went home to his bed that night so I object to that comment!
After about 30 min of questions and some forms to fill out, they ask me to change into standard issued prison uniform. I've been to Israel several times and seen the army clothes worn by the military there; it's a dark olive green color, quite earthy, but formal. I was given a worn brown undershirt, soft cotton, broken in, the kind of tshirt I like to wear doing yard work or just relaxing on a weekend at home. Felt very comfortable, and the all army green uniform looked great on me, first time in a uniform, felt very 'military', didn't feel 'prisoner' at all to me. I immediately took a liking to the uniform, a week into wearing the same clothing and I am convinced Steve Jobs was right about wearing the same thing every day, it's effortless decision making process about what to wear each day! Anyway, back to check-in.
I wrap up the paper work, some of the co's (co = correctional officer) crack more jokes about prison life and are generally easy going guys; they work in a hard environment and seems they try to keep a sense of humor when they get a more 'regular guy' like me. They hand me a 'bedroll' and tell me to walk the 1/2 mile to the Camp location.
The bedroll is a few sheets, blanket and a shower towel. Then I head back out the door, and remember that it's 20F outside and ask them about a jacket, they say ok, and come back shortly saying they could only find a large size in the store room; that it was all they had at the moment.
This jacket was not large, it was practically a sleeping bag. They laughed and said it was all they had, I could get a smaller size the next day from the warehouse. So I draped this thing over me, it was totally comical; this jacket was made for someone 400 pounds, it was a blanket with arm sleeves. Now that I'm done with my prison registration experience I head out of the prison (that felt pretty good to leave!) and started walking down the road to Camp Cupcake.
Deer! Fat Deer. You walk past a small marsh area where water was abundant, and the deer apparently had been eating lots of cup cakes and needed some water… I don't know where these deer are getting so much food, but apparently Otisville must be a Shangri-La for them, these deer were fat! They walked up to me almost within arms reach, I heard later they say Otisville is like a petting zoo. The dumpsters are quite full of food and seems lots of it goes to the local animals. It was a good sign, I love nature and this was a welcomed sight.
The main prison was soon behind me, I was walking past a large brown building that had large doors for truck deliveries. I would learn later this was the main warehouse that stores all the food, clothing, housing supplies for the prison. I saw a few other guys moving around the side of the warehouse, at first I thought they were guards/prison workers as they were nicely dressed in these Israeli looking military uniforms, then realized I was wearing the same thing.
I walked past multiple rows of military like storage units which seemed oddly beautiful and rustic to me. These storage units are right out of WWII or Vietnam movie scene. These half dome shaped, very old looking greyish galvanized ribbed steel structures were in some part of a former life of mine. The army surplus of decades gone by had been a big part of the construction of Otisville back in the 1970's when it was being constructed. Old trucks parked in the back, the spattering of other military looking dressed workers moving around, I felt very much at a military outpost in Russia deep in the winter woods. I kept walking, a baseball field, horse shoe posts and small wooden boxes, wooden benches next to the surrounding forest trees which were all bare of leaves now in the winter months. I crest a small hill and the 2 main 'camp' buildings are right in front of me.
I'm walking with this massive jacket wrapped around me, carrying my bedroll, the other inmates see me coming from a mile away. I see them all start to smile, they remember what it was like for them coming into this place; this part of the experience is like being in the twilight zone. The 5 or so guys get up off their bench and walk towards me with an outstretched hand to welcome me to this next adventure in my life.
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